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Boring Meetings: Stop the Madness!

Are your meetings a drag? A friend of mine recently described his weekly staff meeting like this:

“I dread it. It’s the worst hour of my week. It’s my personal slow death.”

Over the years, I’ve heard the same sentiment echoed across the working planet. How is it that something so routine as a weekly meeting be so painful?

When I probe for more understanding, a few common themes pop up:

·      The meeting appears to have no purpose other than the fact that it was scheduled.

·      The agenda has too many items and no decisions are made.

·      One or several people dominate the discussions.

·      People are unprepared for their part of the agenda.

·      The facilitator doesn’t keep the meeting on track.

·      The meeting started late or went over the designated time.

·      Communication is one-way; discussion is neither encouraged or the group dynamics don’t allow it.

·      All business or no business: There is either no time for interpersonal connection between meeting participants, or there’s too much “chit chat” and not enough focus on the agenda items.

The most common complaint: “It was a waste of my time.”

Meetings don’t have to be boring or waste time. The purpose of a meeting, actually, is to save time by collaborating and sharing information while the key players are all in the same place. But it does require preparation and planning.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you plan meetings. You might remember them with “SIT”– Structure, Involvement & Time:

Structure:

Meetings should be well planned and the focus and outcomes articulated prior to the gathering. An agenda can be circulated for input if it’s appropriate. Agenda items might be best framed as questions to prompt decisions at the meeting. Instead of agenda item “Kitchen”, say, “What rules or agreements do we need to keep the kitchen clean?”

The facilitator needs to take charge of the agenda, the meeting flow, the group dynamics and the action steps for follow up. Wimpy facilitators allow the group to run amok and don’t accomplish the meeting’s objectives.

Involvement:

The purpose of a meeting is most often to have all the involved parties in one place to discuss ideas and make decisions. If the communication is one-way, it could just as easily be accomplished through email or memo. Allowing time for group members to weigh in on topics is important, not only for their experience in the meeting, but also for their follow-up commitments to the decisions made.

It’s important for the meeting facilitator to manage the dominant speakers as well. Setting groundrules up front often helps; inviting team members who are less vocal to share their ideas and opinions provides space for them to speak up…and may help to quiet down the big mouths. But don’t force anyone to talk or put them on the spot. You’ll get less of what you want from them after that. For some people, speaking up in a meeting is more intimidating than making a presentation to a group. In front of a group, they have time to prepare and think through their message. In a meeting, they may have to think on their feet, and not everyone is good at it.

Time:

Start on time and end on time. For late arrivals, don’t start the meeting over to catch them up—it’s their job to get whatever they missed. If agenda items appear to be taking longer than planned, schedule a follow-up discussion for a later time, or invite the group to weigh in on what agenda items are priority for the meeting and move the remaining topics to a future meeting or other communication format.

Flexibility is important to meeting management, but too much flexibility on the part of the facilitator makes it feel like there is no direction or purpose for the meeting, and thus, “a waste of my time”. Use phrases such as, “I’m aware of the time,” or “We’ll need to continue this next week”, or “While all these are important ideas, we need to move to a decision now.”

Meetings should be carefully planned and managed in the same way you might prepare for an important message. Think about this question:

“What do I want my team member to walk away knowing, feeling, and doing after this meeting?

Try it—“S.I.T.” for your next meeting.

Oh, I almost forgot–Humor. Remember, people will not long remember the details of what you said, but they will always remember how they felt, which comes from their perceived meeting takeaways. Sprinkle in a little humor whenever you can. When people laugh together, they often feel more connected and open, two of the most important factors in engaging and involving them. But don’t use humor at someone’s expense, or tell inappropriate jokes for effect. You’ll lose more than you gain.

SIT while you plan your next meeting. You can add the “H” for humor in wherever you like.

Written by Merrilee Buchanan, LCSW

Merrilee is a Senior Consultant and one of the founding partners at Five Degrees Consulting. You can connect with Merrillee on Twitter and LinkedIn, or leave a comment below.
This is a blog we share  between several of the Consultants at Five Degrees, guest authors and colleagues.  We work with companies large and small on People and Organization strategies.  Our work specializes in organizational development, leadership effectiveness and executive development. With a focus on working with leaders at all levels to create an intentional corporate culture, we help organizations increase employee engagement, energize working teams, develop critical leadership competencies and enhance strategic communications for more information about our services, please connect with us.
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